Jon Stewart Nails Andrew Napolitano

Bonus: And don’t forget this Jon Stewart classic from a few years ago.

Anyone who believes that American slavery was on the decline on the eve of the Civil War deserves to be publicly mocked. Jon Stewart and company highlight some of the more outrageous things that FOX News’s Andrew Napolitiano has said about Lincoln in recent years. Not sure I like his new hair color. Can’t wait to use this in my Civil War class tomorrow as we further explore Lincoln’s evolving views on race and emancipation.

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27 comments… add one
  • Gdbrasher Feb 27, 2014 @ 12:25

    Kevin, I’d love to hear about your class’s reaction to the video.

    • Kevin Levin Feb 27, 2014 @ 12:43

      Hi Glenn,

      We are in the middle of a unit on Lincoln and emancipation so the segment was perfect. The kids totally appreciated Stewart’s reference to the Border States and the Confederacy’s commitment to a social hierarchy based on race. What I was really pleased with, however, was there questions about Stewart’s interpretation, which they had no problem questioning. They thought it leaned too far on the side of the “Great Emancipator.” I think some of them understood that Stewart was not playing the role of historian, but using it as another opportunity to go after FOX and some pretty absurd statements by Napolitano, especially his opening line re: slavery as being in the process of dying out.

  • Jerry McKenzie Feb 26, 2014 @ 12:17
    • Bryce Hartranft Feb 27, 2014 @ 12:53

      Great article Jerry. There was a link in the reading to a guardian article on how the British government in 1833 “used £20m of taxpayers’ money to compensate 47,000 slave owners for the loss of their ‘property.'” That made me think about what such a plan would have cost in America.

      The British were paying out about £425.53 per slave owner in 1830, this would be about $1,920 in 1860. In America there were about 393,975 slave owners in 1860. If each of those slave owners were paid $1,920 that would equal $756,432,000. The US GDP in 1860 was $4,345,000,000. So for the US to buy the freedom of all the slaves would have amounted to 17% of 1860 GDP. By comparison, the American Civil War’s cost was about $4,183,000,000. That is 96% of 1860 GDP.

      So the real question is not whether buying the slaves would have been cheaper for the country (because it would have been about $3,426,568,000 cheaper) but instead whether it was better for the country in the long run. Would the southern states have found a reason to rebel other than slavery? According to their secession documents no. Would the Southern economy struggle transitioning from a slave based economy? Yes – but they did after the civil war was fought too. Would African Americans still have had a tough time adjusting into free society? Yes – but they did even after the American Civil War was fought. Would American industry been able to grow as fast as it did during the Gilded Age if there had been no war to fuel its growth? Hard to know, but Drake’s Stream Drill for oil and the Bessemer Process for steel were invented before the Civil War even began, 1859 & 1850 respectively. In addition, had 600,000-700,000 people not died during the war, they and their babies could have created a whole bunch of extra demand (it would also be interesting to know the % of US GDP exported during the Gilded Age to know whether the growth was driven from home or abroad).

      I know that these numbers are rough estimates. I know that it is unlikely that southerners would have sold away a lifestyle that they would later fight and die for. I know that history cannot be changed – but it is terribly interesting to think about the possibilities.

      Here is where I got my numbers:
      Conversion of 1830 £ to 1860 $:
      1860 Slave Owners:
      1860 US GDP:
      Civil War Cost:

      • Jerry McKenzie Feb 28, 2014 @ 8:00

        Bryce, thanks for the detailed analysis! The ‘what-ifs’ are always tantalizing (I’ve always thought the USA would become an economic juggernaut despite slavery and robber barons). The thing that stuck in my craw in that article was the amount of money Haiti paid to France (if I was French I’d be ashamed) for liberating themselves!

        • Bryce Hartranft Feb 28, 2014 @ 11:57

          Yeah especially the fact that “as late as 1940, 80% of the [Haitian] government budget was still going to service this debt.”

  • Eric A. Jacobson Feb 26, 2014 @ 9:54

    Good gosh. This is proof that even a judge can be clueless about basic facts. Slavery was dying?? The fact that someone with Napoliano’s intelligence drinks that Kool-Aid is just stunning.

  • Bryce Hartranft Feb 25, 2014 @ 19:26

    Despite napolitano’s ignorance, this discussion does bring up the old issue of whether the war was necessary or not. What if Lincoln had somehow been able to purchase the freedom of all slaves or even negotiate the 13th amendment early and no war was fought?

    When i think about this possibility i immediately think of the difficulties of reconstruction and its ultimate failure to guarantee lasting rights for African Americans – and that was after ~300,000 staunch confederates were dead. Imagine if reconstruction had been attempted before the south had been crushed.

    This line of thought then leads to what i see as the inevitable answer: John Brown was right. The only way the nation could move forward was “with blood.”

    • Bob Huddleston Feb 26, 2014 @ 12:25

      Bryce wrote “this discussion does bring up the old issue of whether the war was necessary or not.” Perhaps Jefferson Davis should have thought of that before he ordered the American flag fired on.

    • M.D. Blough Feb 26, 2014 @ 16:28

      Secession began very shortly after the 1860 election, even though Lincoln would not be inaugurated until March 4, 1861. Without a war, Lincoln could have done nothing about slavery where it was without Congressional action and, almost certainly a Constitutional amendment. Absent a basis for calling an emergency session of Congress, which the fall of Ft. Sumter provided, the first session of the Thirty-seventh Congress would not have met until December 2, 1861 (First Monday in December: Article I, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution before the 20th Amendment.) Look at the fight over the actual Thirteenth Amendment in Congress. Can you imagine getting that amendment through Congress with the congressmen and senators from the rebel states still there?

      Lincoln was able to persuade Congress in 1862 to offer financial assistance to loyal slave states who took action to end slavery within their borders. Despite Lincoln’s strong urging to their Congressmen, including pointing out that events were rapidly proceeding to the point that no one could control them on slavery, the loyal slave states turned him down cold.

      Negotiating requires two sides who are willing to bargain. The states who rebelled had no intentions of doing anything of the kind regarding slavery.

  • Woodrowfan Feb 25, 2014 @ 14:10

    Keep in mind that Napolitano is also a 9/11 Truther. His skills at weighing evidence are, um, somewhat lacking…

    • Kevin Levin Feb 25, 2014 @ 14:18

      I didn’t know that.

  • Trevor Rowland Feb 25, 2014 @ 13:07

    Napolitano may “prefer to look at Lincoln this way”…not that it’s true, but that’s what he “prefers” to see, since it supports the political points he’s trying to make. In so doing, the Judge just lost all credibility in my view.

    • Kevin Levin Feb 25, 2014 @ 13:29

      Napolitano is ignorant of the relevant history plain and simple.

  • Jerry McKenzie Feb 25, 2014 @ 12:50

    Stewart and Wilmore did a brilliant and hilarious hit job on the ignorance of Napolitiano and Fox News. Thanks for posting this.

  • Chris Evans Feb 25, 2014 @ 11:53

    I’m glad he ripped him. I thought it was great. Such a stupid, ignorant argument by Napolitano.

    No one comes up to snuff in his book since he wrote a ‘gem’ on how terrible Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt were. I’m sure FDR is next.


  • Margaret D. Blough Feb 25, 2014 @ 11:32

    That is one of the most brilliant and impeccably researched segments Stewart’s ever done and that’s saying something.

    • Kevin Levin Feb 25, 2014 @ 11:35

      Guelzo was a guest on Stewart and from what I’ve heard is politically conservative. Napolitano should bring him on as a guest.

  • Brad Feb 25, 2014 @ 11:13

    After watching that clueless performance from the Judge, I wonder if Princeton and Notre Dame Law School want to pull back their degrees. Glad I didn’t go there.

  • Jimmy Dick Feb 25, 2014 @ 10:04

    It just goes to show that if people get their history from rightwing Teabaggers they are not getting any history at all except the wrong history. Napolitano is just making up his history to fit his modern political ideology.

    • Marian Latimer Feb 25, 2014 @ 18:50

      To say this clown makes stuff up gives him credit for brain cells, creativity, insight, and, oh, about a half-dozen other intellectual functions that he clearly is pulling out of a nether part of his anatomy because he is sorely lacking in the grey matter department. It’s pure comedy gold however.

  • Charlie Feb 25, 2014 @ 9:41

    Look on Napolitano’s fb page and check out what his supporters have to say about it. They are as clueless as he is about lincoln and slavery.

  • CMcWhirter Feb 25, 2014 @ 9:39

    I’m absolutely going to steal that line about the South being so committed to slavery that even Lincoln didn’t die of natural causes. Pure gold.

    • GdBrasher Feb 25, 2014 @ 12:41

      I’m going with “a slave named ‘tariff,'” as the best line. And I’m definitely stealing that sucker.

      • Kevin Levin Feb 25, 2014 @ 13:30

        My students know enough about Lincoln that they will laugh at practically every line. Can’t wait to share it.

  • James F. Epperson Feb 25, 2014 @ 9:18

    Napolitano simply doesn’t know what he tries to talk about on this subject. As you said, he deserves to be mocked.

    • Kevin Levin Feb 25, 2014 @ 9:26

      My own students now know enough that they would never make such an idiotic claim about the vitality of slavery on the eve of the war. Absolutely pathetic.

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